Nonprofit Sues N.J. Town for Civil Rights Abuses

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October 21, 2010; Source: NorthJersey.com | According to NorthJersey.com, the Montclair, N.J.-based Mental Health Association of Essex County has sued the municipality and Zoning Board, alleging that town officials violated land-use laws and the civil rights of the mentally ill by rejecting plans for two apartment buildings for people with psychiatric disabilities.

Packed hearings on the plans went on for months, even spawning the Montclair Residential Preservation Group (MRPG) who hired their own attorney and planner. MRPG opposes the residential plans citing zoning regulations. The town board voted 5 to 2 in mid-July to deny the project.

Robert Davison, the executive director of the Mental Health Association, told NorthJersey.com that “someone’s civil and housing rights can’t simply be suspended because they happen to be in a certain part of town.” He said he was duty-bound to sue.

But accusations of discrimination go both ways. The area in which the two units would have been built falls in a predominantly African-American ward. And William Scott, president of MRPG, told NorthJersey.com that “80 percent of Montclair’s so-called ‘supportive housing’ facilities are in the township’s 4th Ward.” The area’s residents are beginning to wonder whether that heavy concentration of affordable housing indicates they’re victims of racial discrimination.

MRPG has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requesting an investigation into whether it is funding the improper site-selection processes of nonprofits.—Aaron Lester